Thunder Locked-In at Arena Practice
The Thunder had a different kind of home practice today, putting in its work at Chesapeake Energy Arena instead of the normal Integris Health Thunder Development Center. With Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat coming up on Tuesday night, the Thunder used laser focus in practice to prepare.
All season long Head Coach Scott Brooks and his Thunder team has done a great job of putting in a consistent level of effort each day at practice and each game night on the floor. Even in stepping onto the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, that work ethic and attention to detail will continue to be the most important part of each day the Thunder steps on the floor.
“I thought practice was very good, we had a great film session,” Brooks said. “We did not do a lot on the court but enough to get up and down a little bit. We worked on some defensive things that we have to do very well to play against them. Did some shooting, some free throws but it was good focus. It didn’t surprise me. Our guys have done that all year. It’s not going to change now.”
Forward Kevin Durant has been with the organization for five years and as one of the leaders of this team, has helped guide the young squad to keep its focus sharp and intensity at a high level. Even with the slight change from its normal practice routine, the Thunder came into practice with a determination to glean as much as possible from its film session and work on the types of things that will make it successful in this series.
“It was a good practice, the last few days have been good for us,” Durant said. “We just have to be ready to face a really good team, a well-coached team. They play hard just like us and are athletic. Everybody was focused and locked in. We all know we have a really good opportunity and we have to go take it. We have to try to take it. It’s not going to be easy and that’s the fun part about it.”
Whether it was knocking down free throws at the end of practice or the intense, rotating drill where each Thunder player practiced closing out on multiple defenders, the Thunder took care of some aspects of the game that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Guard Russell Westbrook and his teammates come into the Finals as the best free throw shooting team in the Playoffs, while also holding opponents to 43.4 percent shooting, evidence of strong close outs and help side rotations. Both of those aspects, in addition to other small aspects of the game will be top of mind for the Thunder as it continues to work hard and push forward towards accomplishing its biggest goal.
“Guys are coming in and getting their work in like a usual day,” Westbrook said. “We’re focused on detail and what the keys to beating Miami are. I think guys have done a great job the last few days… We haven’t really done anything. We just got to where we were last year and got past that point, now we have to make the next jump.”
Part of what has made this ascension for the Thunder so intriguing is the fact that the team has grown up together. With the 23-year old Durant and Westbrook along with 22-year olds James Harden and Serge Ibaka, along with a young head coach in Brooks, the Thunder have risen together as a unit. That togetherness and the bond the team has forged has only strengthened the team over the years, helping prepare it for a difficult task like beating the Heat.
“We’ve been together now for four years,” Brooks said. “We haven’t gotten to this level, but we’re here because of the work they’ve put in. They’re not going to be intimidated with the stage of the NBA Finals. They know what is at stake. It is one game at a time and it’s everything that we have to get that game for each other. I think our guys have done a good job of that all year.”
A result of the Thunder’s team as one mentality is that it has given every member of the squad an ownership in the outcome of each game. As Westbrook described, each member of the team has found a role and a niche that they can play in order to help the team improve. Whether it is Kendrick Perkins being a defensive anchor or Royal Ivey hustling and playing tough perimeter defense in practice, the fact that every player on the roster has an impact on the team’s performance gives the team confidence that it can perform at its best.
“Whatever it is that I need to do to make sure we get the win, that’s what I’m going to do,” Westbrook said. “I think during the Playoffs every player finds a way they can have an impact on a series and on the Playoffs. This year, everybody has done a great job of contributing what they think is best for us to win the series.”
“I’m always confident in what our team is able to do,” Westbrook said. “Every guy on the team, down the line, feels that we can win. They’re going to continue to play confident and come into the game confident.”